Ariel Ben Avraham

Parshat Ki Teitzei: The freedom in goodness and the slavery in evil

The only way we assimilate the dynamics of good and evil is in our own experience of both, and from this we draw our conclusions and choices. This approach works for everyone except those who relativize the meaning of both, and make evil not a reference but a choice, including masochistic people.

In this sense we also come to the awareness that good are evil shape and define life as a learning process. This is one of the lessons Moses repeatedly brought to the Jewish people since he accepted the mission of leading and guiding them as God’s request.

“Because they [the people of Moab] did not greet you with bread and water on the way when you left Egypt, and because he [the king of Moab] hired Bilaam the son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim against you, to curse you. (…) You shall not ever seek out their welfare or their good, all your days.” (Deuteronomy 23:5-7)

These verses command us to reject evil in the specific forms of arrogance, ruthlessness and indifference as lack of compassion towards other people, particularly those who have been previously oppressed and humiliated. They also commands us to reject those who want the destruction of others without a cause, or to make their lives miserable by instigating evil against them, “just because”.

The commandment presented here is not only to reject such lower and despicable traits and trends in human consciousness, but also not to feed them in any way. Moab and Midian, along with their rulers and sorcerers represent self-destructing tendencies that we must eliminate in order to live by the goodness of their opposite traits and trends. This commandment includes similar negative expressions represented by the Canaanite nations, such as envy, coveting, wrath and evil speech.

“For the Lord your God goes along in the midst of your camp, to rescue you and to deliver your enemies before you. [Therefore,] your camp shall be holy, so that He should not see anything unseemly among you and would turn away from you.” (23:15)

Thus we understand that anything contrary to goodness as our bond with the Creator, keeps us away from His ways and attributes that are the source of our life and well being in this world. In this context we assimilate that God manifests Himself to the Jewish people as the ruling principle that sustains and directs His creation, as the psalmist reminds us.

“Be grateful to the Lord, for He is good. His loving kindness is for the world [alt. trans. is eternal].” (Psalms 106:1, 107:1, 118:1, 136:1; I Chronicles 16:34)

The reason is quite simple. We have to be grateful to goodness, for we can’t live without it. Thus we realize that goodness is our true freedom, and evil our true condemnation. The lesson apparently is easy to understand and to implement in our moment to moment life experiences, as long as we finally become aware that evil exists not as a choice but as a reference for us to choose goodness.

“[Therefore,] it will be, when the Lord your God grants you respite from all your enemies around [you] in the land which the Lord your God gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget!” (Deuteronomy 25:19)

This portion of the Torah ends with a more specific commandment to eradicate all forms of evil from human consciousness, that are represented by Amalek as the archetypal enemy and antagonist whose goal is to destroy the diverse expressions of goodness that are represented by the multifaceted identity of the children of Israel.

This directs us to call all forms of evil by their name, and to eliminate them from the face of the earth by all means necessary. Hence we have to engage in this battle as an educational one as we mentioned above because goodness requires learning from it, as also must occur learning from wickedness.

As long as we live with, by and for goodness, this same goodness gives us relief from evil because it is also the land that God gives us to possess and to settle in. In this awareness every negative trait and trend in consciousness is destined to disappear from beneath the heavens.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Zefat.
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